I know how useful exercise can be to help people manage day to day stress. I know how uplifting it can be to go for a run and think of nothing except where my next stride is landing and how beautiful my surroundings are. It certainly helps me feel calmer. As I ran recently with my friend K, whose 14 year old son has autism, I asked her if exercise was important to her in coping with the pressures she faces. Here is K’s response –
“Our biggest stress with F revolves around school. Getting him to engage with school and homework can be very hard, especially if he doesn’t agree with what he’s meant to be learning. It’s hard for other people (including teachers!) to understand how his mind works and to engage with him. He’s a very bright boy who just sees the world differently to most and isn’t always able to express his views. We always feel we have to push that bit more; try a bit harder; plan ahead better; be more inventive, to find a way to help him achieve his potential and to make sure he feels safe, loved and included.
“For us exercise is a way to escape, physically and mentally, from the everyday demands of life in general as well as being parents of neuro normal children and a neuro non typical child. Part of being a parent means giving up part of yourself to nurture and help develop another, you give of your time but also your thoughts and energies, you focus on their needs.
When I go for a run (without any family) it’s a chance to focus solely on me. I try really hard to not think about anything except the rhythm of my steps and my breathing. I also like wild swimming even though I have a slight fear of deep water, especially dark water full of weeds! The fear is something I focus on suppressing whilst swimming. This helps me to empty my mind of other thoughts, as I focus on each stroke through the water, enjoying the sound of the bubbles rushing along the length of my body, gliding through the water. I try to find the rhythm, breathing and moving, and think of nothing else.
Another exercise I really enjoy is kettlebell. If you don’t focus entirely on what you’re doing when swinging a heavy weight around, there’s a good chance you’ll hurt yourself or someone else! I do other gym glasses too, anything where you really have to concentrate and can’t let your mind wander. I try for 4 sessions a week and my husband and I tend to alternate evenings or time at the weekend.
“I find that all these forms of exercise are like a physical form of mindfulness. An emptying and stilling of my mind which allows me to reset my equilibrium. Literally rebalancing myself and so enabling me to better juggle all of life’s ups and downs. Plus there’s the exercise high afterwards, the feeling of satisfaction at pushing yourself to do something physically hard (but achievable) and, let’s be honest, a nice feeling of smugness!”
Thank you K, that is good to hear how wonderfully beneficial exercise is for you.